Why You Should Take Service Design Into Account When Thinking About UX

What comes to mind when you hear “UX”? I’d guess you imagine someone sitting in front of a computer designing digital products with the help of suitable software. But do you think about service design?

Maybe you even think of a group of people brainstorming or holding workshops overflowing with super colored sticky notes.

Well, I have to say your imagination has not erred. But the question usually comes to my mind: Why limit designing experiences to only a digital level? Why not integrate these digital products into service design (SD)?

I might mistakenly always wonder about real-life experiences instead of just the digital ones, but I feel that the world keeps on nearing this approach.

People are starting to realize that experience design doesn’t need to end with an application. We could give users more, a whole experience your company can provide. It even sounds cooler, right?

What makes up service design?

Without getting into specifically detailed definitions of service design, I’d rather just summarize the most important thoughts about it. We may find it more digestible and useful here.

Practicing service design means planning and organizing different types of resources –  such as people, processes or any kinds of materials or components – of a business or service.

This activity aims to improve the employees’ and customers’ experience of the service. If necessary, it may create new solutions for the interaction between the provider and the customer by designing, aligning and optimizing an organization’s operations.

It requires a holistic perspective: Backstage and frontstage components and thus context makes much sense.

Service design: girl reading a magazine

How does service design relate to UX?

As you see, a “normal” UX designer would not really do this practice on a normal workday. The tasks differ, and that includes the greatest difference: Service design does not mean digital (or at least does not have to contain anything digital – but in many cases it does).

A service constitutes a whole process. For example, you go to the hairdresser’s and get a new haircut as a result. In general, having it in mind and doing it all for a great value (which can be a new style for me in our example), a service comprises a system containing people, artifacts and processes.

It happens over time, starting with the moment you decide to do it and ending with the achievement of your goal. It could go even longer, like when you buy the right shampoos and look for articles on the internet on how to take good care of your new hairdo.

In this case, you can have experience with digital touchpoints. Let’s say an app lets you select the haircut you want to get. You can see that a little piece of UX integrated into service design as a bigger system in this example.

Key areas of service design

To get a better understanding of what service design focuses on, we listed here the main areas of a business’s operations:

  • Assets. The customer interacts with these digital or physical artifacts or touchpoints. Employees also use them to deliver the service.
  • People. All these people actually share in contributing to the service. This co-creative practice can happen directly or indirectly – each and every person has a huge impact on the service in a way or another.
  • Policies. The company’s rules, operations, and workflows define how they will provide the service and how the customer will experience it.
  • Culture. Rules come up here again, but the unwritten ones. Employee and employer attitudes and style, history and behavior simply imply the company culture.

Service design deals with a bigger picture, a whole system in which UX can have its own place. And if we are dealing with a digital product, I find it hard not to start thinking about the whole thing, the bigger picture where the user or customer has an experience not limited to the screen. This way they can achieve their real great value.

Service design differs little from UX

The fields of service design and user experience design in the traditional sense seem to require slightly different mindsets. Of course, this assumption has some truth in it, but they have a lot in common in terms of soft skills and processes.

Service design: man holding a tablet

You might think now how these fields just can’t bear any similarities. One involves designing a specific product to a digital platform, and the other, something not at all tangible. It also happens over a longer period of time and has so many other touchpoints than just an application.

But they connect to each other so much in a way that both service design and UX design share the same approach of always trying to make the user’s or customer’s life easier by improving a system as much as possible.

5 similarities in service design and UX design

  1. First of all, empathy and design thinking. OK, every designer should have empathy and a design-oriented mindset, but understanding user needs and problems forms the essence of both fields. You absolutely must have user focus.
  2. Personas. In UX just as in SD, creating fictional characters or archetypes of the potential audience provides the process to summarize values, motivations, desires, problems, cultural backgrounds and social characteristics of the imagined user or customer. Both fields basically do it the same. We use this method very often in our projects, so if you’re more interested, check out what our process looks like.
  3. Research and prototype. SD and UX might do these slightly differently, but as far as I have experienced, every project has its own ways, so… What’s the big deal?
  4. Strategic thinking. Designers of both fields need to have the ability to see through business decisions and overall business issues. They have to think in a system, no matter if it results in a service or an application.
  5. Customer journey map. Mapping out the possible best and worst feelings of the customer (or user) while they are interacting with the service or product. Many ideas will come up using this holistic approach. Well, this includes much more, of course, but luckily we have another article OK, we have more than just one – that describes this method, too. So check it out if the topic excites you!

Service design - UX similarities: post-its

Collecting just these few soft skills and methods show how similarly user experience design and service design can turn out. We at UX studio know this, and we like to use them to create experiences that support greater values.

I just realized we already deal with service design

As we always try to educate ourselves, we must look for new challenges through which we can not only improve our skills but practice what we already have in new fields. I have mentioned how you can read more about some of our methods. In fact, we have a lot more, especially on how to actually do these workshops.

As I don’t like to just talk to the wind, here you can read about our persona workshop, customer journey workshop and product strategy workshop, just to have a look at some of our methods.

So we have the skills, methods, and mindset suitable for service design. But that raises the question: Can we really work on service design projects? Can we really use our processes in service systems, too?

Service design: UX designer thinking

I remember some of our projects that looked more like service design projects rather than just “simple” UX design. We haven’t introduced the term “service design” in our processes yet, but I feel it may happen very soon, as the field is getting more stage lights on it as time goes on.

Because as I have seen so far, we are already doing this. So, to answer the questions above: Yes, we absolutely can do this. I’m not saying that it poses no challenges, but hey, we love these kinds!

Service design as a UX designer sees it

We have seen many similarities in user experience design and service design. However, they represent different fields. As we have just taken a very brief look at the world of service design, we have seen that:

  • Service design deals with seeing the big picture, organizing all the components of a business in order to improve the experience of the service for the customers and the employees;
  • Some soft skills and processes in services design also strongly resemble or even mirror those in UX;
  • These similarities make it possible for us UX designers to start thinking of creating something bigger, in which digital products play the role of touchpoints that support the whole service.

If we look at our previous projects, we notice all those elements that can bring new thoughts to our minds that lead the way to service design. And, we can start our new projects like this as well.

Have a more systematic mindset and always think about and keep in mind all the other components that make up a whole service. So, in order to do so, we should just bring our methods and skills and learn more about this field by actually doing it.

Is there more?

Check out our free e-book, the Product Manager’s Guide to UX Design. In it, we describe the basics of our process.

Our CEO David Pasztor actually wrote a whole book about it as well. Buy the hard copy Product Design book today – with free shipping to Europe and the US.

More into in-person learning. Reach out to if you are thinking about organizing an in-house UX training for your team. We sure have some ideas! 😉

Martina Győrffy

Designer, passionately ready to learn all the time.
Travel and coffee lover, crazy about dogs.
Just give me a puppy in a caffetteria - my mind is blown.

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